Murdaugh Trial: Lawyers Describe Carnage Where Wife and Son Died

Opening statements in the trial of Alex Murdaugh, the scion of a prominent South Carolina family, emphasized the brutality of the killings. The defense portrayed Mr. Murdaugh as a loving father and husband who did not “butcher” his family.

ImageAlex Murdaugh arriving at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., on Wednesday.
Credit...McKenzie Lange/USA Today Network, via Reuters
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New evidence was revealed in a dramatic start to the trial.

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Alex Murdaugh, a prominent South Carolina lawyer, has been charged with the murders of his wife and son.CreditCredit...Pool photo by Grace Beahm Alford

WALTERBORO, S.C. — A prosecutor painted a damning portrait on Wednesday of the evidence against Alex Murdaugh, the South Carolina legal scion who has been charged with murdering his wife and son, saying in court that Mr. Murdaugh had texted and called his dead wife after committing the brutal killings and driven to his mother’s house, all in an effort to build an alibi.

But to Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, the viciousness of the killings was just one of many reasons Mr. Murdaugh, 54, whom he described as a loving father and husband, could not be responsible. “He didn’t kill — butcher — his son and his wife,” Mr. Harpootlian told the jury in his opening statement. “And you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.”

The competing arguments opened one of the state’s most-anticipated murder trials in a generation, and each side pulled back the curtain on a mountain of evidence that jurors will have to pick through as they weigh whether a man whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served as prosecutors should be sent to prison. The trial is taking place in the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., in a courtroom where a portrait of Mr. Murdaugh’s grandfather had hung until it was ordered to be taken down for the trial.

The case, which features not only a grisly murder but also the dramatic downfall of a local legal dynasty, has captured attention across the country. Podcasts, documentaries and near-endless online forums have cataloged every detail as Mr. Murdaugh’s life unraveled in the wake of the murders, which prosecutors say he carried out to prevent the disclosure of his own financial crimes.

Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor, said in his opening statement that the state would be relying heavily on forensic and other physical evidence to prove that Mr. Murdaugh carried out the killings, which took place on the family’s vast, rural hunting estate, about 65 miles west of Charleston.

Prosecutors say there was no absence of motive: Mr. Murdaugh had stolen millions of dollars from his clients and law firm over the past decade, they have said, and efforts to learn more about his finances were threatening to expose his misdeeds. Mr. Murdaugh, they argue, carried out the killings in a desperate, failed effort to gain the public’s sympathy and stop his embezzlement from coming to light.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher

“Listen to that gathering storm that all came to a head,” Mr. Waters told the jury. “The evidence is going to be such that you are going to reach the inescapable conclusion that Alex murdered Maggie and Paul, that he was the storm, that the storm was coming for them, and the storm arrived on June 7, 2021.”

In the prosecution’s account, Mr. Murdaugh fatally shot his younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22, in the doorway of a dog kennel’s feed room and then turned a different gun on his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, finishing the job with an execution-style shot to the back of her head.

Among the evidence, Mr. Waters said, are bullet casings found elsewhere on the property that match those found around Ms. Murdaugh’s body, suggesting she was killed with “a family weapon.” He said that Mr. Murdaugh could not account for two of three rifles that he had purchased in recent years, and that empty boxes of ammunition were found on the property that were of the same brand and type as those fired into the victims.

Mr. Waters also said that the police investigation had turned up a raincoat that was covered in gunshot residue at Mr. Murdaugh’s mother’s home, where he had visited on the night of the killings.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Waters said, is newly disclosed cellphone evidence. He said that less than five minutes before prosecutors believe the killings took place, Paul Murdaugh recorded a video of a dog to send to a friend, and that his father’s voice could be heard in the background — even though Mr. Murdaugh has said in the past that he was not at the dog kennels that night, but instead was napping inside.

Five minutes later, Mr. Waters said, at 8:49 p.m., both Maggie and Paul Murdaugh’s phones were locked and neither ever responded to any texts or calls ever again.

Within minutes of the killings taking place, prosecutors said, Alex Murdaugh called his wife twice, getting no answer, and then texted her to tell her he was going to check on his mother, who lived about 20 minutes away. He left the family property shortly after 9 p.m. and spent about 20 minutes with his mother, who prosecutors said has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease and was with a caretaker.

In the prosecutors’ telling, it was a callous and calculated effort to cover his tracks, as were five additional phone calls to various people that he made as he drove to and from his mother’s house. Mr. Waters asked the jurors to consider the possibility that Mr. Murdaugh drove away from his home even as his wife and son lay dead on the ground, in an attempt to “manufacture an alibi.”

Just after 10 p.m., Mr. Murdaugh returned to the house, where his lawyers say he came upon the crime scene for the first time and called 911. But prosecutors say he quickly tried to send the police down the wrong track by suggesting that the perpetrator must have targeted his son because of a fatal boat crash two years earlier. At the time of his death, Paul Murdaugh was facing charges that he had drunkenly crashed a boat, killing one of his passengers.

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Credit...Michael M. DeWitt, Jr./Augusta Chronicle, via Usa Today Network

The boat crash was connected to the crime, prosecutors allege, but not in the way that Alex Murdaugh suggested. They say that litigation over the passenger’s death had threatened to force Mr. Murdaugh to share details of his finances, potentially revealing his embezzlement. On the day of the murders, he had also been confronted by his law firm over a missing payment.

Mr. Waters said Mr. Murdaugh gave three video-recorded statements to the police, which would be played at trial, and he urged jurors to watch them closely.

“Watch his expressions,” Mr. Waters said. “Listen to what he’s saying. Listen to what he’s not saying. Does this seem right, or does something seem a little off?”

To Mr. Harpootlian, the lead lawyer for Mr. Murdaugh, the prosecution’s theories are no more than speculation that ignore key facts. He said that two videos that Paul Murdaugh recorded shortly before the murders show the family having a relaxed evening, including the father and son laughing over some recently planted trees. He said Mr. Murdaugh had no reason — let alone enough time — to commit the murders and drive to his mother’s.

“The cellphone records would indicate he would have had less than 10 minutes to kill them, get up to the house, get in the car and crank it up,” Mr. Harpootlian said. “He’d be covered in blood.”

Mr. Harpootlian also said that the white T-shirt Mr. Murdaugh was wearing that night had no blood on it, asking jurors: “Where are the bloody clothes?”

He and prosecutors have disagreed, in pretrial proceedings, about whether or not tests uncovered microscopic blood spatter on the T-shirt. Judge Clifton Newman, who is overseeing the trial, has yet to rule on whether prosecutors can call a witness who concluded that there was spatter on the shirt, one of several key evidentiary issues that are still looming over the trial.

The starkly different descriptions of Mr. Murdaugh’s actions that night and what the evidence shows could put even more importance on how jurors interpret the physical evidence and the two sides’ conflicting analysis of it.

Among the 12 jurors — eight women and four men — are a school aide, a project manager, a letter carrier and a medical center employee, all of whose identities are being kept secret because of the attention the trial has received.

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, has transformed the small city of Walterboro, with food trucks lined up next to the courthouse to serve the influx of lawyers and journalists and with locals gawking at the conclusion of proceedings each day as Mr. Murdaugh is led out of the back of the courthouse in handcuffs.

Jan. 25, 2023, 6:38 p.m. ET

A shirt and bullet casings are key pieces of evidence in the Murdaugh murders.

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Credit...Pool photo by Grace Beahm Alford

In drawing a connection between Alex Murdaugh and the killings of his wife and son, prosecutors so far appear to be relying on two key pieces of physical evidence: a shirt that Mr. Murdaugh wore on the night of the killings and bullet casings that prosecutors said are similar to others found on Mr. Murdaugh’s property.

Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers have been deeply critical of both those conclusions.

They have argued in the past that an expert’s analysis on the T-shirt was akin to “weird, at-home science fair experiments,” and that any blood found on Mr. Murdaugh’s shirt may have gotten there when he checked on the lifeless bodies of his wife and son.

Judge Clifton Newman, who is overseeing the murder trial, has yet to rule on whether to admit testimony from a prosecution witness who contends that there was some blood spatter on the shirt, most likely caused by a gunshot.

But he has allowed into evidence the state police agency’s testing of bullet casings found at the scene.

Prosecutors say that six spent rifle cartridges found near the body of Mr. Murdaugh’s wife, Maggie Murdaugh, had markings similar to those on other spent shells found at an area of the property used as a shooting range, as well as just outside a gun storage room.

A state police ballistics expert says that the similar markings on the casings suggest that the cartridges were fired by — or at least loaded and then unloaded from — the same gun. Prosecutors have suggested that the gun was a rifle that Mr. Murdaugh bought for his son that has not been found.

Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers have argued that there is not enough scientific research on the ballistics of the type of ammunition at issue to back up the expert’s conclusions.

The defense has also attacked prosecutors’ claims about the white T-shirt that Mr. Murdaugh wore on the night of the crimes. In his opening statement on Wednesday, the lead defense lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, said no blood spatter had been found on Mr. Murdaugh’s clothing from the night of the killings.

“They didn’t find any blood on him. No human blood detected. Period,” he told the jury.

Earlier, however, a prosecution expert said the shirt appeared to be stained with blood spatter from a shotgun wound. According to another expert, it was difficult to say for sure.

The shirt was examined using a substance that can brighten faint bloodstains, turning them indigo. Defense lawyers for Mr. Murdaugh have pushed to exclude the experts’ testimonies, arguing that both reports were unreliable — in part because the second report appeared to parrot much of the first — and that the analysis was essentially botched.

The defense lawyers also said that the blood pattern analysis was useless because there was no proof that the splatter stains, which the expert said were located on the shirt’s upper areas, were even blood. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers said that state police officials had already tested that part of Mr. Murdaugh’s shirt for hemoglobin — a component of human blood — and found none.

The analysis of bloodstain patterns is a niche forensic discipline that some consider unreliable, in part because of the scant scientific training that many investigators receive before applying it. Practitioners review splashes, drops or trails of blood at a crime scene and then use the physics of fluid in motion to infer details about what happened.

“It seems simple,” said Peter De Forest, a forensic scientist and professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s not.”

He said that while blood pattern analysis can be useful, it is too often practiced by people who lack the proper training. “The science is so important,” Dr. De Forest said, “and so easily abused.”

Part of the reason that bloodstain patterns are so prone to mislead, according to a 2009 report from the National Research Council on improving forensic science, is that complex patterns may appear deceptively simple.

Jan. 25, 2023, 6:03 p.m. ET

Alex Murdaugh had no time to commit a bloody murder, defense lawyers said.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher

In his opening statement to jurors, a defense lawyer for Alex Murdaugh, the once-prominent lawyer accused of killing his wife and son, painted a picture of the three family members enjoying each other’s company on the evening of the murders — June 7, 2021.

Pointing to friendly scenes captured on cellphone recordings not long before the murders, the lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, suggested on Wednesday that Mr. Murdaugh could not have had the impulse — nor the time — to brutally execute his wife Maggie and his younger son Paul, who were found with gruesome gunshot wounds at a kennel on the family’s hunting estate.

“He didn’t do it,” Mr. Harpootlian said. “He didn’t kill — butcher — his son and his wife. And you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.”

Mr. Harpootlian shed some light on a Snapchat video that Paul Murdaugh sent to some friends before 8 p.m. — a recording that had so far only been alluded to in court documents. He said the video captured Alex and Paul Murdaugh having a conversation about some recently planted trees, laughing and “having a good time.”

In a second video, which Paul seemed to have recorded just seconds before 8:45 p.m., Mr. Harpootlian said that the father, mother and son could be heard talking about a dog that had killed a bird, and “debating whether it was a guinea hen or a chicken.”

He added that while the cellphone records were incomplete, they did suggest that Alex Murdaugh got into his car shortly after 9 p.m. to drive to his mother’s home in Varnville, S.C., and that he had been calling and texting his wife around the same time.

That, Mr. Harpootlian argued, would have left him a very narrow window of time to shoot two people at close range and clean himself up. “Where are the bloody clothes?” he asked, noting that state law enforcement officials had failed to find human blood splattered on the shirt.

The prosecution, he added, was trying its best to weave a story after appearing to conclude from the beginning that Mr. Murdaugh was guilty. “This smoke they’ve created,” he said, “is about suspicion.”

Jan. 25, 2023, 5:39 p.m. ET

Two earlier deaths are also under investigation.

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Credit...Travis Dove for The New York Times

While this trial is focused on the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, the case has also prompted investigators to review two more deaths that happened years earlier: those of Stephen Smith, 19, and Gloria Satterfield, 57.

Mr. Smith, who had been a classmate of Alex Murdaugh’s older son, was found dead on Sandy Run Road in Hampton, S.C., about 10 miles from the Murdaugh home, early in the morning on July 8, 2015. No arrests were made. The death had initially been investigated as a possible shooting before it was ruled a probable hit and run.

Mr. Smith’s mother, Sandy Smith, has questioned that determination in interviews with South Carolina news outlets and has complained that the authorities changed their story and failed to answer many questions.

She has said that on the night of her son’s death, he was driving home from a night class at a technical college, where he had been training to become a nurse. Police files have suggested that Mr. Smith ran out of gas on the side of the road several miles away from where his body was found.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helped with forensics in the initial investigation, which was led by South Carolina Highway Patrol. But in June 2021, about two weeks after Maggie and Paul Murdaugh were killed, the law enforcement agency said that it was opening a new inquiry based on information gathered during investigations into the double homicide.

The police have not accused the Murdaugh family of wrongdoing in Mr. Smith’s case, and they have not said exactly what prompted them to open an investigation into his death.

Ms. Satterfield worked as a housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaughs for about a quarter-century, until the day she was reported to have fallen from some stairs outside of the family’s home. Ms. Satterfield had a brain hemorrhage and died at a hospital on Feb. 26, 2018, a few weeks after she fell. Alex Murdaugh referred her two sons to a lawyer.

In September 2021, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division opened an investigation into the circumstances of Ms. Satterfield’s death after the coroner in Hampton County raised questions about the fact that her death had been attributed to natural causes, despite the fall, and that no autopsy had been conducted.

Ms. Satterfield’s sons said in a 2021 lawsuit that they had never been told about a $4.3 million settlement that had been negotiated for them by a lawyer who was a friend of Mr. Murdaugh, and that they never received the money. During a bond hearing in December 2021, Mr. Murdaugh agreed to pay $4.3 million to Ms. Satterfield’s family.

Jan. 25, 2023, 5:19 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Alex Murdaugh called his wife after killing her in order to build an alibi, prosecutors say.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher

WALTERBORO, S.C. — The lead prosecutor in the trial of Alex Murdaugh, the prominent South Carolina lawyer accused of murdering his wife and son, painted a damning picture of the evidence against Mr. Murdaugh on Wednesday, saying that cellphone data showed he had texted and called his wife in an effort to support an alibi just minutes after brutally killing her.

Creighton Waters, the prosecutor, laid out the case in his opening statement, revealing a host of new details that he said led the police to charge Mr. Murdaugh in the killings. Mr. Waters said that data from the cellphones of Mr. Murdaugh, as well as those of his wife and son, Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, indicate that all three were at the family’s rural hunting estate at about 8:15 p.m. on June 7, 2021, shortly before the killings took place.

About 30 minutes later, Paul Murdaugh went out to the family’s dog kennel and recorded a video of a friend’s dog to send to the friend, the prosecutor said. Alex Murdaugh’s voice could be heard in that video, showing he was there, Mr. Waters said. That evidence contradicts Mr. Murdaugh’s claim that he was not at the kennels until more than an hour later, after having driven over to visit his mother and returning home to find the gruesome scene.

Five minutes after recording the video, at 8:49 p.m., Paul Murdaugh’s phone locked and he never responded to another text or call — suggesting that the killings took place about then, Mr. Waters said. Within 30 seconds, Maggie Murdaugh’s phone also was locked, and she also never answered another message.

Mr. Waters said this was the time that Alex Murdaugh shot and killed his son with a shotgun, and then used an AR-style rifle to fatally shoot Maggie Murdaugh, who apparently was running and fell to the ground a short distance away.

He described their injuries in horrific detail. “It’s going to be gruesome,” Mr. Waters said of the evidence. “There’s no other way around it.”

Mr. Murdaugh had purchased three rifles over the previous five years, all of them using the same type of ammunition, but two of them could no longer be accounted for, Mr. Waters said. He said rifle ammunition casings found elsewhere on the property, including at a nearby area used as a shooting range, match the casings found at the murder scene, suggesting that one of the rifles owned and previously used by the family had been used in the killings.

“It was a family weapon that killed Maggie Murdaugh,” he said.

About 15 minutes after the killings, Mr. Waters said, Mr. Murdaugh’s phone showed a flurry of activity, including calling his wife’s phone twice and texting her with a message saying he was going to check on his mother. Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers have said in the past that he was at his mother’s home, along with a nurse’s aide, at the time of the crime.

On Wednesday, Mr. Waters said that Mr. Murdaugh’s mother has late-stage dementia; he suggested that Mr. Murdaugh had called a series of relatives and friends in order to support his alibi. Mr. Waters also disclosed for the first time that the police had found a wadded up raincoat with gunshot residue at his mother’s home during the investigation.

On the night of the crimes, Mr. Murdaugh called 911 just after 10 p.m., telling the police he had returned to find his wife and son shot and pleading with them to hurry.

In the wake of the crimes, Mr. Waters said, Mr. Murdaugh gave three video-recorded statements to the police, and he urged the jurors to “watch those closely.”

“Watch his expressions,” Mr. Waters said. “Listen to what he’s saying. Listen to what he’s not saying. Does this seem right, or does something seem a little off?”

At trial, prosecutors plan to outline a series of financial crimes that they say Mr. Murdaugh had committed, and which were about to be exposed, leading him to kill his wife and son in an effort to gain sympathy and divert the inquiries into his financial dealings.

In his own opening statement, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer, Dick Harpootlian, pushed back on many of the arguments that Mr. Waters made. Mr. Harpootlian said that there was no motive for Mr. Murdaugh to commit the crimes.

“I say this one last time: He didn’t do it,” Mr. Harpootlian said in concluding his statement. “He didn’t kill — butcher — his son and wife, and you need to put from your mind any suggestion that he did.”

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:42 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

After intense opening statements from the lead prosecutor and a lawyer for Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of murdering his wife and son, the judge said the court will break for the day. Jurors will return at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday for the first witness’s testimony. The prosecutor said the first witness will be an emergency responder and that the state plans to show body camera video from the night of the killings.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher
Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:40 p.m. ET

In his opening statement, which just ended, Dick Harpootlian, the lead defense lawyer, made a point of emphasizing the weakness — or outright lack, as he characterized it — of evidence against Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of shooting his wife and adult son to death. “There’s no eye witness; there’s no camera; theres no fingerprints,” he said. “There’s no forensics tying him to the crime. None.”

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:30 p.m. ET

The defense lawyer, Mr. Harpootlian, said that if Alex Murdaugh had shot his son with a shotgun at close range as the prosecution claims, his white T-shirt would have been covered with blood, but that there was no human blood found on the shirt. The shirt has been a subject of some contention. The judge has yet to rule on whether to allow testimony from a prosecution witness who said there was blood spatter on the shirt, most likely caused by a gunshot.

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:17 p.m. ET

Dick Harpootlian, the lead defense lawyer, said there was a Snapchat video — taken before 8 p.m., which is earlier than the other video we just heard about from the prosecutors. That video shows Alex and Paul Murdaugh laughing and “having a good time.” Mr. Harpootlian contrasted that with the gruesome details of the killing, saying it did not make sense that Alex Murdaugh could brutally kill his son so soon after laughing with him.

Jan. 25, 2023, 4:15 p.m. ET

The lead defense attorney, Dick Harpootlian, has a long history in South Carolina politics.

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Credit...Jeffrey Collins/Associated Press

Richard A. Harpootlian, the lead defense counsel for Alex Murdaugh, has a reputation as a pugnacious and charismatic lawyer — and a power player in South Carolina politics.

During the 1990s, Mr. Harpootlian, 74, was one of the state’s most vocal supporters of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns. He described himself as “very close with the Clintons” until 2007, when he met then-candidate Barack Obama and threw his support behind him, becoming a sharp critic of Hillary Clinton. Mr. Harpootlian went on to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Mr. Harpootlian is also a longtime ally of President Joe Biden, having supported the then-candidate in the state where his primary campaign gathered momentum in 2020. Mr. Harpootlian’s wife, Jamie Harpootlian, was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Slovenia in December 2021.

In addition to his work as a lawyer, Mr. Harpootlian, a Democrat, is also a state senator whose district stretches across Lexington and Richland Counties. He served twice as the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, with his last term ending in 2013, and was on the Richland County Council more than three decades ago.

Mr. Harpootlian has a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and a bachelor’s degree from Clemson University. Though he is now defending Mr. Murdaugh, he also has experience as a prosecutor on hundreds of murder cases in South Carolina’s Fifth Judicial Circuit.

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:14 p.m. ET

Dick Harpootlian, the lead defense lawyer, asked Alex Murdaugh to stand up in court and called him a “loving father” to Paul and a “loving husband” to Maggie.

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:14 p.m. ET

Mr. Waters, the lead prosecutor, said that Paul Murdaugh recorded a video and sent it to a friend just seconds before 8:45 p.m. on the night of his death. He said the video showed that both of Paul’s parents were there with him at that time. The young man's phone, Mr. Waters added, went “silent forever” at 8:49 p.m. The murders occurred in that time frame, he said.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 4:09 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

The prosecutor describes the cell phone data and videos as damning evidence. The timeline of events he is describing, based on evidence from cellphones, supports the state's theory that, at about 8:49 p.m., Alex Murdaugh shot and killed his wife and son and then, a few minutes later, texted and called his wife — who was already dead — as part of an effort to create an alibi.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:57 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

The judge called for a brief pause during the prosecution’s opening statement and briefly stepped out of the room. He has just returned, and the opening statement is resuming.

Jan. 25, 2023, 3:57 p.m. ET

The night of the killings included a Snapchat video and an urgent 911 call.

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Credit...Travis Dove for The New York Times

The exact sequence of events on the night of the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh — June 7, 2021 — has been a subject of intense scrutiny.

The killings took place at the family’s expansive hunting property in Islandton, a rural corner of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The property, often referred to as Moselle, the name of the road it is on, had a kennel building where hunting dogs were kept, separate from the main house.

Prosecutors have said Alex Murdaugh, the prominent lawyer now on trial in the deaths of his wife and son, killed them near the kennel between 8:44 p.m. and 10:06 p.m. (Earlier, state law enforcement officials had placed the time of death in a narrower window, from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.)

In his opening statement, Creighton Waters, a prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office, said cellphone evidence will play an important role in the trial.

Court documents indicate that at 7:56 p.m., Paul sent a video to some friends using the messaging app Snapchat. In documents filed by the prosecutors this week, the video was described as “critical” and “important to proving the state’s case.” It remains unclear what exactly the video shows.

Mr. Murdaugh’s defense team has said that he was at the property on that Monday evening, before the murders happened. And according to documents filed in October by a prosecutor with the South Carolina attorney general’s office, there is also evidence showing Mr. Murdaugh was with his wife and son in the area of the crime scene at 8:44 p.m.

That appeared to be a reference to a cellphone video that defense lawyers said was recorded by Paul and captured the three family members in casual conversation, discussing the behavior of a dog.

Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyers have said he left the property to visit his mother in Varnville, S.C., shortly after 9 p.m. During the 20-minute drive, they said in a court filing, Mr. Murdaugh had cellphone conversations with five people: His older son, Buster; one of his brothers, John; a sister-in-law, Liz; C.B. Rowe, who is described by some news reports as a groundskeeper at Moselle; and a longtime friend and fellow lawyer, Chris Wilson.

Mr. Murdaugh reached his mother’s house around 9:20 and stayed there with her and a nurse’s aide until about 9:45, according to his lawyers, and then traveled back to Moselle. He spoke again with Mr. Wilson on a phone call during that drive and arrived at his property around 10 p.m., discovering the bodies of his wife and son in the kennel area around 10:05, his lawyers said, calling 911 immediately after.

Maggie Murdaugh had been shot five times with a rifle, court documents show, and Paul had been shot twice with a shotgun. Both were found facedown with gruesome injuries.

At about 10:05, Mr. Murdaugh called 911 to ask for the police and an ambulance. “It’s bad,” he said, adding that his wife and son were on the ground at the kennel. “Please hurry,” he said, several times. When asked by the dispatcher, he said that he had touched their bodies to see if they were alive.

A report from a forensics analyst suggested that Mr. Murdaugh drove back to his house to get a shotgun — for protection, he said — before returning to the kennel to wait for emergency responders.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:57 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Alex Murdaugh’s alibi has long been that he was visiting his mother at the time of the killings. But the lead prosecutor just noted that Murdaugh’s mother has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. He also says that the police later found a wadded up raincoat at her house that was “coated in gunshot residue.” The prosecutor says the raincoat is among the many pieces of forensic evidence that he says will show Murdaugh carried out the crimes.

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:51 p.m. ET

Alex Murdaugh’s surviving son, Richard, who is known as Buster, is sitting behind his father in the courtroom.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:49 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

The prosecutor says Alex Murdaugh gave three video statements, which will be shown to the jurors, along with police body camera video from the night of the crime. “Watch those closely,” the prosecutor tells the jurors. “Watch his expressions. Listen to what he’s saying. Listen to what he’s not saying. Does this seem right, or does something seem a little off?”

Jacey Fortin
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:45 p.m. ET

So far, the opening statements suggest that cell phone videos will be important to the state’s case. It’s not clear yet whether Mr. Waters might be referring to one or more videos — including at least one Snapchat message — which, court documents suggest, may have been recorded by Paul Murdaugh before 9 p.m., on the night of the murders.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:38 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Alex Murdaugh has said he was visiting his mother, who was also with a nurse’s aide, at the time of the crimes. But the prosecutor says that “cell phones are going to show otherwise,” referring to both Murdaugh’s phone and those of his wife and son. He said the evidence would show Mr. Murdaugh was present just minutes before the murders.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:37 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Creighton Waters, a prosecutor in the office of the South Carolina attorney general, is now delivering opening statements. He is animatedly describing the crime, saying Alex Murdaugh fatally shot his son, Paul, with a shotgun, and then used a rifle to fatally shoot his wife, Maggie. “They were shot at close range and they did not have defensive wounds,” he says.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:33 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

The judge tells the 12 primary jurors and six alternate jurors that they cannot discuss the trial with anyone, including friends and family, and cannot watch or read news coverage of it. At least six of the jurors said during jury selection that they had heard about the case from the news or from friends before they were called to serve.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:32 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Judge Clifton Newman is now introducing the case to the jury and explaining the mechanics of a criminal trial. Alex Murdaugh, the once prominent lawyer now on trial on charges he murdered his wife and son, is seated at the defense table, wearing a shirt, jacket and glasses. When he walked into the courthouse this morning, he did not respond when asked what he wanted people to know about the case.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:25 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

The trial was supposed to resume at 3 p.m. with opening statements from prosecutors. It is not clear what the delay is, but we expect the parties to be back in the courtroom soon. Meanwhile, the judge has issued an order allowing prosecution witnesses who testified before a grand jury to see transcripts of that testimony before they take the stand at trial. Defense lawyers often use discrepancies between grand jury testimony and trial testimony to trip up witnesses.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 3:14 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Photographs taken inside the courtroom earlier this afternoon show Alex Murdaugh, who is accused of killing his wife and adult son, crying and dabbing at his eyes as the judge issued an order barring the release of graphic photographs of the crime scene.

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Credit...Pool photo by Joshua Boucher
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 2:59 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Alex Murdaugh’s older son, Buster, just arrived at the courthouse in advance of opening statements. He did not respond to questions from reporters.

Jan. 25, 2023, 2:55 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

A jury of eight women and four men will decide Alex Murdaugh’s fate.

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Credit...Pool photo by Grace Beahm Alford

Twelve people were sworn in as jurors on Wednesday to sit through a weekslong trial and decide whether Alex Murdaugh, who was once a prominent South Carolina lawyer, is guilty of murdering his wife and adult son.

The jurors, eight women and four men, come from around Colleton County, S.C., which is one of the largest counties in the state, stretching from the coast to more than 50 miles inland. Six alternate jurors were also selected; they will sit through the trial and could be swapped in if one of the 12 primary jurors is removed.

Judge Clifton Newman, who is overseeing the trial, has ordered that the jurors’ identities remain a secret. But they did divulge some information about themselves in open court, in response to questions from the judge.

The jurors include a school aide, a contractor, a project manager, a letter carrier and a medical center employee.

At least six of the 12 primary jurors said they had heard about the case, mostly from news reports and social media. At least one said she had formed an opinion about whether Mr. Murdaugh was guilty or innocent, though she indicated that she still felt she could hear the evidence with an open mind and reach a decision based solely on what is presented at the trial.

Among the six alternate jurors, only two said they had heard nothing about the case. One said he had watched a documentary and had formed an opinion about the case but assured the court he could reach a verdict based on the evidence.

The court’s clerks had sent out 900 summonses to prospective jurors — more than three times the number for a typical criminal case — given the expectation that many people would be excused because they had formed an opinion of the case or were connected to the well-known Murdaugh family.

The case is expected to take about three weeks.

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Jan. 25, 2023, 2:47 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Court is expected to resume at 3 p.m. with an opening statement from the prosecution, followed by one from Alex Murdaugh’s defense team. Twelve primary jurors — as well as six alternates — were sworn in earlier today to decide whether or not Murdaugh is guilty of murdering his wife and son.

Jan. 25, 2023, 2:37 p.m. ET

The timeline of the investigation stretches back years before the killings.

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Credit...Travis Dove for The New York Times

The criminal case against Alex Murdaugh, the former lawyer accused of killing his wife and son, is part of a web of accusations, investigations and lawsuits that have accompanied the downfall of a member of one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal dynasties.

Mr. Murdaugh was for years a well-known lawyer specializing in civil litigation. His family law firm, based in the tiny town of Hampton, was considered a powerhouse on the state plaintiffs bar, and his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all served as the top prosecutors across a wide region of the state.

Here is a timeline of the major events related to the case:

July 8, 2015: The body of Stephen Smith, 19, was found on Sandy Run Road in Hampton County, S.C. His death was ruled a hit and run, but his family had lingering questions.

Feb. 26, 2018: Gloria Satterfield, 57, who worked as a housekeeper and nanny for the Murdaugh family for about a quarter-century, died about two weeks after she was reported to have fallen on the front stairs of the family’s hunting property.

Feb. 24, 2019: Alex Murdaugh’s younger son, Paul, who was then 19, drunkenly crashed the family boat into a bridge, witnesses said, throwing several of his passengers into the water. The body of one passenger, Mallory Beach, 19, was found a week later. Ms. Beach’s parents would later sue Alex Murdaugh, bringing pressure on him to reveal details of his finances.

April 18, 2019: Paul Murdaugh was charged with three felony counts in connection with the deadly boat crash. He later pleaded not guilty.

June 7, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh called 911 to report that his wife, Maggie, and son Paul had been shot at the family’s hunting property in Islandton, a rural hamlet about 65 miles west of Charleston.

June 22, 2021: State officials announced that they were reopening investigations into the death of Mr. Smith, the teenager who died in 2015, based on information gathered during investigations into the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh.

Aug. 11, 2021: Duffie Stone, the region’s top prosecutor since 2006, recused himself from the June 7 murder case in a letter to the state attorney general, Alan Wilson, whose office is now prosecuting the case. Mr. Stone knew Mr. Murdaugh and had worked under his father, Randolph Murdaugh III, who preceded Mr. Stone as the prosecutor for South Carolina’s 14th Judicial Circuit.

Sept. 3, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was forced to resign from his family law firm after his partners said that he had misused millions of dollars of client and firm money.

Sept. 4, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh called 911 from the side of a road not far from his home and said that he had been shot in the head. He claimed that the shooter had pulled up beside him as he was inspecting a flat tire. Mr. Murdaugh survived with a head wound.

Sept. 6, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh released a statement through his lawyers, saying he had made decisions he regretted and was entering a “rehab” program.

Sept. 14, 2021: The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said Mr. Murdaugh had admitted that he asked a former client, Curtis Edward Smith, to shoot and kill him on Sept. 4 so that Mr. Murdaugh’s surviving son, Richard, who is known as Buster, could collect a $10 million insurance payment.

Sept. 15, 2021: South Carolina law enforcement officials announced an investigation into the death of Ms. Satterfield, the housekeeper who died in 2018, and her family members filed a lawsuit against Mr. Murdaugh and others alleging they pocketed settlement funds related to her death.

Sept. 16, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was arrested and charged with fraud and conspiracy in the suicide scheme. His lawyers said that Mr. Murdaugh was depressed by the loss of his family and struggling to stop abusing painkillers when he devised the plan, and that he would check into rehab. A judge released Mr. Murdaugh but ordered him to surrender his passport.

Oct. 14, 2021: Mr. Murdaugh was arrested at a Florida drug detoxification center and charged with swindling millions of dollars from the sons of Ms. Satterfield. He was jailed in Richland County, S.C., and twice denied bond.

Dec. 13, 2021: During a hearing, at which a judge set his bond at $7 million, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer said that his client had agreed to pay $4.3 million to Ms. Satterfield’s family. He remained in jail.

June 3, 2022: The police said that they planned to exhume Ms. Satterfield’s body, having received permission from her family.

June 28, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh and Mr. Smith were indicted by the state’s grand jury on two conspiracy counts, including a narcotics count related to the painkiller Oxycodone.

July 14, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh was indicted on two counts of murder. Prosecutors said he fatally shot his wife with a rifle and his son with a shotgun.

July 20, 2022: Mr. Murdaugh pleaded not guilty at a bond hearing, and his lawyers said he wanted to go to trial as soon as possible.

Dec. 16, 2022: A state grand jury indicted Mr. Murdaugh on nine counts of tax evasion, and prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office said he had defrauded a range of people of about $8.8 million.

Jan. 23, 2023: Mr. Murdaugh’s trial on the homicide charges began with jury selection.

Jan. 25, 2023, 2:37 p.m. ET

Reporting from Walterboro, S.C.

Prosecutors say Alex Murdaugh killed his wife and son to conceal his own financial crimes.

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Credit...Kacen Bayless/The Island Packet, via Associated Press

WALTERBORO, S.C. — As prosecutors tell it, Alex Murdaugh, a prominent lawyer in South Carolina, had embezzled millions of dollars by the spring of 2021 and was so afraid his thefts would come to light that he was willing to kill two of the people closest to him to divert attention.

The question of motive has loomed over the case, and it is the prosecution’s theory that Mr. Murdaugh hatched a bizarre and tragic plan to kill his wife and younger son in order to gain sympathy and delay two separate efforts to get him to divulge his personal financial information.

It seemed to work at first, prosecutors said, as condolences poured in and people wondered who might have targeted his family. But there was soon even more scrutiny of his finances, leading to dozens of indictments on financial crimes — and then on the murder charges he is being tried on this week.

“He had been stealing for over a decade,” Creighton Waters, the lead prosecutor in the murder trial, said in court on Tuesday, adding that the financial malfeasance he was eventually accused of could have sent him to prison for life. “That’s the significance of what he was trying to prevent from being exposed.”

To Mr. Murdaugh and his defense team, the purported motive is absurd and not supported by the evidence.

“His theory is that he knew the jig was up, so he went home and butchered — blew the head off his son — and butchered his wife,” said Dick Harpootlian, Mr. Murdaugh’s lawyer, as he derisively recounted the prosecution’s theory. Mr. Harpootlian said a wealth of evidence — texts, pictures, witness testimony and at least one video from the day of the crimes — would show that the Murdaughs were a happy family.

“There is no dispute anywhere that they were the perfect family, in terms of their relationships,” Mr. Harpootlian said.

Whether evidence of Mr. Murdaugh’s alleged financial crimes is presented at trial is still an open question. Prosecutors are often not allowed to tell jurors about “prior bad acts” perpetrated by a defendant so as not to bias the jurors, but prosecutors have argued this case was an exception because it was vital to show Mr. Murdaugh’s motive.

Prosecutors had asked Circuit Judge Clifton Newman, who is presiding over the trial, to rule before testimony begins that they can introduce or discuss evidence of financial crimes, but the judge said on Tuesday that he would instead decide the question when it comes up during the trial, leaving the issue hanging over the proceedings.

Prosecutors point to two specific events in the week of the murders that they suggest may have led Mr. Murdaugh to kill his wife, Maggie Murdaugh, 52, and their younger son, Paul Murdaugh, 22.

The first was a lawsuit that had been brought against Mr. Murdaugh after a fatal boat crash in 2019 involving his son. Paul Murdaugh had been charged with drunkenly crashing the boat, killing a female passenger. A lawyer for the woman’s family was asking a judge to order Mr. Murdaugh to disclose details about his finances and a hearing had been scheduled for June 10, 2021. It was canceled after the killings on June 7, 2021.

The second event was a confrontation that prosecutors say Mr. Murdaugh had on the day of the murders with a staff member at his law firm who demanded that he explain why nearly $800,000 in lawyer fees had not been deposited into the firm’s account, as it was supposed to have been. But Mr. Murdaugh had already spent that money and more, prosecutors say, and was no longer able to move enough money around to cover his tracks.

The murders put a temporary end to the inquiries. “Everyone backed off their inquiries and rallied around him,” prosecutors wrote in one court filing, adding: “The day of reckoning vanished.”

That changed in September 2021, when Mr. Murdaugh’s law firm discovered a copy of a check made out to Mr. Murdaugh that was supposed to have been made out to the firm, leading to the discovery of more problems with the books. The firm forced him to resign and, before long, he was charged with a series of financial fraud crimes — and eventually the murder of his wife and son.